Linden keeps 'em talking

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Trevor Linden hasn't changed the outcome of the collective bargaining game, but he apparently has forced overtime.

In a rare occasion during this moribund negotiation between National Hockey League owners and players, there will be a second consecutive day of talks, thanks largely to Linden, the president of the players' association, for arranging a meeting of three top lieutenants from both sides yesterday at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

Little news was revealed after five hours of talks, but another meeting is scheduled here today, once more without lead antagonists Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, and union executive director Bob Goodenow.

"It was dialogue and that's what I set out to accomplish," Linden told reporters last night as he departed.

Part of the exchange of ideas, a source told Sun Media, was the framework of a six-year deal floated by the players that would begin with the players keeping many of the benefits of an open-market system. However, if that proved to be too advantageous for them, a hard cap could be implemented in the final years of the deal.

Such a concept might be too hot to handle when put in front of Bettman and Goodenow, who have staked their jobs on a hard cap and free market, respectively.

Joining Linden, the Vancouver Canucks veteran, in a series of three-on-three and smaller group chats were union senior director Ted Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge. The owners were represented by vice-president and legal counsel Bill Daly, chairman of the board Harley Hotchkiss, co-owner of the Calgary Flames and outside counsel Bob Batterman. Linden had said prior to the gathering that he wouldn't be delivering any new offer from the players.

Saskin's mother passed away yesterday in Toronto, though it's expected he will be involved in today's talks, while Hotchkiss will be at the funeral of Flames' co-owner Bud McCaig's today in Calgary.

Daly told reporters the good vibes in Chicago "had nothing to do with Gary and Bob not being there."

"We appreciate the initiative Trevor took," Daly said in a press release. "The parties had a good, candid dialogue, and we intend to talk again. Out of respect for the process, we have no further comment at this time."

The clock, meanwhile, continues to tick down on saving a season that must begin play by the first week of February to have any legitimacy.

There were rumblings before yesterday that a growing number of disgruntled players and/or agents had pressed Linden into asking for the meeting, as they approach a fifth month without pay cheques.

"We're all still on the same page," Leafs player rep Bryan McCabe insisted last night. "Trevor felt he had to reach out and speak up. Let's face it, we're all getting pretty close to D-Day here.

"It's not really optimism I'm feeling (after yesterday), but some positive things have happened."

Yesterday was just the third face-to-face meeting since the lockout began on Sept. 15. The players offered a 24% rollback on existing contracts last month, but the owners are sticking to their salary cap mantra.

"If it's not (settled) this weekend, the season is about over," Flames captain Jarome Iginla told Rogers Sportsnet.


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